Fabio Aru (Astana) avoided any problems on the testing stage through the Massif Central to Le Puy-en-Velay, helping him overcome the disappointment of losing the yellow jersey in Rodez and giving time to focus on the decisive stages in the Alps which will reveal if he can topple Chris Froome and win the Tour de France.
Aru smiled broadly at the start of the stage and again at the finish, despite the aggressive day of racing produced by Romain Bardet's AG2R-La Mondiale squad. Aru finished with Froome and his other overall rivals, with only Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) managing to escape and gain 14 seconds. The Sardinian remains just 18 seconds down on Froome, with Bardet third at 23 seconds and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) fourth at 29 seconds.
A Tour de France has never been so close as the riders enjoy the final rest day with just six stages left to race. Despite his disappointment of Rodez, Aru knows he has never had and perhaps never will have a better chance of winning the Tour de France.
"I always try to smile, even after a difficult day. You never know when you are going to gain time or lose time. You can't let it get you down," Aru prophesied, now wearing the red, white and green Italian national champion's jersey after losing the yellow jersey.
"There's no point in looking back at yesterday and what happened, we've got to look forward to the rest of the race and the remaining six stages. Now on it'll be up to another team to control the race. We'll sit on the wheels for now and see what happens.
"There are still six stages to go and the final week is testing, with two big mountain stages. We're going to enjoy the rest day and then think about the rest of the race."
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Aru's Astana Tour de France squad has been decimated by crashes and injuries, leaving Aru exposed to Team Sky's super team. He has lost fellow team leader Jakob Fuglsang and loyal and very effective domestique Dario Cataldo. Other riders in the team are covered in bandages after crashes. The Astana team management is trying to find hope in Aru's form and not worry about the lack of a strong team to support him.
Experienced directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli has won the Tour de France with Marco Pantani and Vincenzo Nibali. After the Rodez disaster, he worked on convincing Aru to focus on the two big Alpine stages rather than recriminating about the time he lost.
"I'd have actually slept less if we'd kept the jersey. The important thing is to know that we've got a great team leader and still have the chance to do something great in this Tour," Martinelli told Cyclingnews.
"I think we have to move on from the finish in Rodez and look up the road. It would have been better to lose no time or little time but we can't change things now."
"We know that Fabio is on form and has great legs. I want him to relax now and focus on Wednesday and Thursday. He's still only 18 seconds back on Froome, that's virtually nothing considering we go over the Galibier one day and then finish on the Izoard the day after. Froome lost 20 seconds in just 300 metres in the Pyrenees and so it could happen again.
"Of course we know we'll have to attack Froome and try to gain time before the time trial in Marseille. That's what we'll do."